The Joys of Steam

We have a brand new Heritage Intern, Jess, who has been working with our brilliant Power Volunteers for the past few months, and in doing so, has found a brand new passion…

‘If there is poetry to be found anywhere in a cotton mill it is in the engine-house you will find it.’

(Autobiography of a Manchester Cotton Manufacturer,P32,1887)

When I arrived at Quarry Bank as a Heritage Intern I already had a vested interest in textile machinery, but little did I know I had the potential to become a steam enthusiast!

 The gentle whirring and turning of cogs, the mesmerising revolutions of the fly-wheel and the occasional plumes of steam make these engines beautiful examples of engineering prowess. There is a bench opposite the end of the horizontal engine which is one of my favourite spots and I would recommend it to anyone seeking a moment of solace.

Our Beam Engine
Our Beam Engine

 This quote caught my attention as it encapsulates my feelings about steam engines. At first glance they look loud and intimidating, but each one has its own character and personality. They each have their own unique language and they make sounds telling you something isn’t right and steady hums letting you know all is well. There is a romance about them as they represent an age of innovation and still hold the ability to capture the imagination around two hundred years after their conception.

Interest in them spans all ages and inquisitive questions come from young and old visitors alike. Children are fascinated by the exterior components of the engines; the arm swinging back and forth turning the wheel in a constant and repetitive motion or the spinning governor with its fluctuating speed. The hiss of steam is a constant reminder of the work being done by the machine. The older generation appreciate them as they can remember a time when engines like this still fuelled industry and for them to see the preservation of interest and the conservation of the machines restore their faith in the continuation of engineering innovations from times gone by through future generations.

Our horizontal engine
Our horizontal engine

The enthusiasm of the volunteers is a huge contributing factor to my new-found love of steam. They are such a font of knowledge and appear to find as much joy in teaching others about the engines as they find in the machines themselves. I’ve been welcomed into the steam gallery with open arms and after just a few months feel compelled to share my love of these great machines; they truly are the power houses of industry. Not too long ago I met a man on the train who told me to forget my pursuits in textile design and instead become an engineer, we need more bridges and less cushions were his words, and now I can honestly say that if textiles doesn’t work out for me engineering will be my next move.

I challenge anyone to stand above a beam engine watching its parts moving in effortless motion to not be hypnotised by its historic charm. We’re so lucky to have examples of steam engines at Quarry Bank and I feel privileged to be able to operate them with the expert guidance of the power gallery stewards.




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